Expensive taxi rides brought us Uber/Lyft, but should we be driven by amateur drivers?

I am back in the USA, and my first experience coming home made be want to turn around and head right back to Romania.  The taxi driver while driving me home from the airport said “Welcome Home”, and I’m sure he was trying to be friendly, but the taxi fare of $166 for a 33 mile trip is stupid and makes me angry.  Where it becomes worthy of a LongTailPipe post is the contrast between the official Taxi system, the amateur Taxi-like systems like Uber/Lyft, and the inconvenience of using mass transit from San Francisco International Airport.

For context …. Yesterday started at 5AM in Bucharest (about 7pm PST the day before) with a trip to Henri Coanda International Airport, a short flight to Frankfurt, a long flight to Seattle, and another short flight to San Francisco.  I was beyond tired, and one little detail is that I’d misplaced the SIM card for my phone and therefore did not have cell phone service upon arriving.  Instead the SIM card still in my phone is for Vodaphone Romania, not very useful here.

The plan had been to use Lyft from the airport to get home.  But since my phone wasn’t very functional I couldn’t use the Lyft app, and I lacked the gumption to figure out a workaround.  I therefore gave in and went to the taxi stand for a regular taxi.  But what I didn’t count on was the obscene pricing.  The fare would have been $107, still very high, but because it went beyond 15 miles from the airport there was a 50% surcharge.  Ugh, talk about punitive pricing.

This gives us a first stage justification for why Uber/Lyft exists.  I believe the business model for American taxi services is gouging customers.  I’ve read that New York City artificially limits the number of taxi’s so to prop up the price for taxi medallions.  Supposedly buying a NYC taxi medallion runs $150,000, and if NYC increased the number of medallions their value would plummet.

The very existence of Uber/Lyft is proof of demand for a larger number of taxi-like vehicles on the road.

Simple economics says that if more folks offer a given service, the price for the service should fall.  Free market economics dogma suggests that the number of taxi vehicles on the road might be a self-policing number.  If too many taxi’s are on the road, the price might fall so low to drive some out of business, automatically bringing the number of taxi’s back in line without need for government oversight.  But by requiring taxi operators to have a medallion artificially interferes in the market.

Of course that’s too simplistic for the real world, and having some kind of qualification process for taxi drivers is a good thing to ensure taxi drivers know what they’re doing and won’t be crooks.  Therefore some degree of government control is needed, but not to the degree it currently stands.

The rise of services like Uber, Lyft, AirBNB, and more (in Bucharest there are several food delivery services using bicycle-based couriers) is about amateurs doing what was formerly controlled by experts.

AirBNB is like a hotel, but run by an amateur.  Uber/Lyft are like taxi’s but are driven by amateurs.  But, can modern society be run by amateurs?

A taxi driver should be an expert driver who is reliable, honest, etc.  Quit laughing, that’s a statement of the ideal condition for which we should strive.  I’m aware of the taxi driver stereotype – rough character looking to gouge.  But that means taxi drivers should be monitored and arrested by the police if they act out of line, just as anybody else should be.

Do Uber/Lyft drivers face the same level of scrutiny?  Are we as certain that an Uber/Lyft driver won’t do us harm?

I don’t know, but the fad-like popularity of Uber/Lyft should raise a red flag that maybe “we” (the global “we”) are rushing into something without thinking it through.

 

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

About David Herron

David Herron is a writer and software engineer living in Silicon Valley. He primarily writes about electric vehicles, clean energy systems, climate change, peak oil and related issues. When not writing he indulges in software projects and is sometimes employed as a software engineer. David has written for sites like PlugInCars and TorqueNews, and worked for companies like Sun Microsystems and Yahoo.

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